The Ascent of Olympus

The Ascent of Olympus

The Ascent of Olympus

Two climbers stand triumphantly on the summit of the Olympus Mons. After weeks of arduous effort, they have accomplished what climbers have dreamed about since humans first set foot on Mars two decades earlier: scaling the Solar System’s largest mountain and claiming the Earth and Space Foundation’s Olympus Mountaineering Award.

The three-person team began its climb weeks earlier from the Tharsis Plains more than 25 kilometers below the summit. Wearing specially designed climbing suits and lugging ultra-light pressurized tents, the explorers set off to conquer a volcano that is two-and-a-half times taller than Mount Everest.

It was the arduous and difficult climb, filled with steep walls, dangerous cliffs, and deep crevices. More than once, one or another of the explorers came perilously close to slipping off the edge into an abyss from which there could be no rescue.

Now standing on the highest point of the rim looking north, the explorers have a spectacular view. Olympus Mons is so large that they can only see a portion of the many collapse pits that form the caldera. Lava flows, fractures, and a few impact craters cover the floors of the pits. Dust from annual storms has drifted between the basalt rocks and flows. At this altitude, the explorers virtually stand in space above most of the Martian atmosphere, and stars can be easily seen overhead. In the atmosphere below, wispy blue water ice clouds are starting to appear in the late afternoon sky. The satellite image at left shows the direction in which the picture faces across the caldera of Olympus. North is upwards.

One of the explorers triumphantly waves a pole of flags while his partners look on. The pole has non-nationalist Buddhist prayer flags attached to it in the tradition of mountaineering expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest on Earth. Another explorer crouches at the edge of the rim with his geologist’s hammer, while the third takes a photograph of this historic moment. The explorers’ dirty suits show the wear from the weeks it took to climb this enormous mountain. Specialized modular backpacks contain storage for climbing gear as well as life support systems.

This work by noted space artist Marilynn Flynn is significant because it was the first painting of a mountaineering team at the summit of Olympus. The Ascent of Olympus was commissioned and donated to the Foundation in September 2002.

Copyright status : Marilyn Flynn/Earth and Space Foundation 2002

About the Artist

Marilynn Flynn is one of the few astronomical artists who can truly be called a Space Artist. Several pieces of her artwork have been launched into space. Her acrylic painting “Cosmic Cauldron” orbited Earth for several months on board the Mir Space Station as part of Ars Ad Astra, the first art exhibit in orbit.

A professional astronomical artist for over 20 years, she combines her artistic talents with a lifelong interest in space exploration. Mars has always been a favourite subject, as she has wanted to leave Earth for the Red Planet since she was a child. The fantastic geology, desert-like terrains, swirling polar ice caps and the unusual weather of Mars have provided inspiration for many paintings. She is particularly interested in volcanic features on other planets, and Mars provides plenty of subject matter in that field. As a natural extension of her own life-long desire to settle on Mars, she frequently depicts people living, working and exploring Mars in her landscape paintings.

Ideas for her Mars paintings may come from various sources. A new discovery by scientists, a photo of some interesting geologic feature taken by a spacecraft, or simply visualizing a scene which she wishes were actually happening. Or she may find inspiration during field trips on Earth, where she photographs and sketches landscapes which are analogs to the Martian terrain. These pictures are then used as a basis for her Martian landscapes. She also creates paintings on her computer, using USGS digital elevation maps of Mars to produce existent landscapes in artworks depicting people exploring particular locations on the Martian frontier.

All images in the Foundation’s collection are copyright to the artists or the Foundation. Reproduction of these images is not allowed without permission (in some cases permission for reproduction can be obtained directly from the artists who maintain reproduction copyright). These images are low resolution versions of the originals.